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Lions vs. Packers preview, prediction: On Paper Thanksgiving

A statistical breakdown, preview and prediction for the Week 12 Thanksgiving matchup between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers face off for the second matchup this season, this time in the opening Thanksgiving Day classic. Roles are reversed from a typical Lions Thanksgiving Day game: Detroit is nearly guaranteed to make the postseason at 8-2, while the Packers are hanging on to threads of belief that they can make an unlikely postseason run.

But last week, the Lions nearly lost to a Chicago Bears team completely out of the race. Are they in danger of another close one this week against the Packers? Let’s take a closer look with our On Paper preview and prediction.

Lions pass offense (7th) vs. Packers pass defense (24th)

Last week, Jared Goff and the Lions passing offense had their worst game of the year. Not only did Goff throw three interceptions and lead Detroit to just 14 points through three-and-a-half quarters, but they did so against a pretty awful Bears defense. Do we factor this into our perception of the Lions pass offense, or do we point to their efficiency in the final three minutes as a sign they just had an off day?

The rest of the chart makes it pretty clear the Bears game was an outlier. Goff has only been held below a passer rating of 85 twice this season, while just about every other stat shows this is a top-10 passing offense, quite possibly even better than that. The Lions passing offense ranks:

  • Ninth in yards per attempt (7.5)
  • 10th in passer rating (96.1)
  • 11th in dropback EPA
  • Fourth in dropback success rate
  • Fifth in PFF passing grade

Chief to their success is pass protection, which is their specialty. The Lions rank second in PFF pass blocking grade, 12th in ESPN’s pass block win rate, and fourth in sacks allowed. However, keep a careful eye at left guard. Starter Jonah Jackson appears on track to miss another game, and last week, the Lions opted to start rookie Colby Sorsdal at left guard for the first time all year. Sorsdal allowed a team-high four pressures and earned just a 37.1 PFF pass blocking grade.

*Game played by Brett Rypien

The Packers pass defense has been all over the place this year. While there’s more good than bad—only a single quarterback has surpassed a 100 passer rating against Green Bay—they’re also just not being thrown against much (because of their bad run defense). The Packers have faced the fifth-fewest passing attempts—and also some of the worst passing offenses in the league. The only games they’ve played against passing offenses that rank 16th or better in DVOA are the Lions, Broncos, Vikings, and Chargers, and all four of those teams saw moderate-to-big success. Green Bay would have also lost all four of those games had the Chargers not dropped six passes.

Overall, the Packers rank 11th in yards per attempt allowed (6.7), 13th in passer rating, 20th in dropback EPA, and 21st in success rate.

In terms of quarterback pressure, this team is pretty mid. They rank 11th in pressure percentage, t-22nd in sacks, 23rd in PFF grade, and 21st in pass rush win rate.

The injury part: We have a special section this week because the Packers are the most injured team I’ve seen this week. Jaire Alexander has been listed as a limited participant dating back to last week but hasn’t played in two games. It’s hard to read whether he’ll play this week. Rudy Ford missed last week with a bicep injury but has been listed as limited this week. Darnell Savage returned to practice this week from IR, but with just walkthroughs this week, it’s hard to know if he’ll be activated right away.

Player to watch: Sam LaPorta. Though he’s coming off a rough game, LaPorta has been a key part of the Lions passing attack. The Packers rank 25th in pass defense DVOA against tight ends this year, so expect LaPorta to eat.

Advantage: Lions +2.5. I tend to think the Packers pass defense is either average or below average. And with all the injuries in the secondary, Detroit should be a pretty significant mismatch. My biggest concerns are Goff shaking off a bad game, and Sorsdal dealing with someone like Kenny Clark, who ranks 21st among all defensive tackles in pressures (27).

Lions run offense (4th) vs. Packers run defense (20th)

The Lions rushing attack has been on fire as of late. With a healthy David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit is blowing through even some of the best run defenses. They’ve rushed for 5.2 yards per carry or more in four straight games and for 4.9 or more in six of their past seven. They’ve also hit the 100-yard mark in eight of 10 games and tallied a rushing touchdown in nine of 10.

Overall, they rank fourth in yards per carry (4.6), third in rushing touchdowns (16), first (!!) in adjusted line yards, second in PFF run block grade (75.8), third in rush EPA, and eighth in rush success rate. Have I made my point clear? This is a top-five rushing attack, and the fact that they are able to do it without a mobile quarterback is special.

This isn’t quite the terrible run defense of the past 10 years in Green Bay, but it certainly isn’t good either. They’ve allowed 140+ yards in five of 10 games and over 200 three times. The only true “good” run defense games they’ve had are against the Saints, Vikings, and Rams—three teams who average less than 4.0 yards per carry. Last time the two teams met, the Lions absolutely throttled the Packers defense.

Overall, Green Bay ranks 21st in yards per carry allowed (4.3), 22nd in rush EPA, 21st in success rate, 17th in run defense PFF grade, and 22nd in adjusted line yards.

The injury part: Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell has missed both practices this week with a new neck injury. His run defense grade of 77.6 is 17th among 79 qualifying linebackers.

Player to watch: Penei Sewell. Just look at this man:

Advantage: Lions +3. In the first matchup, I only gave the Lions a +1 advantage, but since then the Lions have hit their stride, and the Packers have remained a pretty poor defense. Expect the Lions to run early and often.

Packers pass offense (14th) vs. Lions pass defense (12th)

Jordan Love has had an up-and-down season as the feature quarterback in Green Bay. Granted, he’s faced some tough pass defenses along the way, but the results have been mostly average all year.

Over the course of the season, the Packers pass offense ranks 18th in yards per attempt (6.9), 21st in passer rating (84.0), 12th in EPA, and 20th in success rate. Let’s just call them average.

Though the Lions managed five sacks in the first matchup, pass protection remains a relative strength for the Packers. They’re ninth in pressure percentage allowed (18.8%), t-eighth in sacks (22), t-third in PFF pass blocking grade (73.8), and second in pass block win rate.

With that extra time, Love is absolutely uncorking the deep ball. It’s a huge part of what they do offensively, but they have lived and died by Love’s inconsistency throwing deep. Love’s 38.0 adjusting completion percentage on deep balls (20+ yards) ranks 22nd out of 37 qualifying quarterbacks (per PFF), but he ranks first in attempts (50).

The Lions pass defense has had some truly great performances mixed with some truly awful performances. There doesn’t seem to be much in between with this unit. As of late, they’ve struggled quite a bit—though they’ve also faced two of the most efficient passing attacks in the Ravens (eighth in DVOA) and Chargers (fifth).

Overall, I don’t buy that this is a top-12 pass defense right now. At best, it registers as average. They rank 22nd in yards per attempt (7.1), 18th in passer rating (89.4), 17th in dropback EPA, and 23rd in success rate.

Pass rush continues to be extremely inconsistent, ranking 19th in PFF grade, eighth in pressure percentage, 22nd in sacks, and 26th in pass rush win rate.

The injury part: The Packers are hurting bad here. TE Luke Musgrave (33 catches, 341 yards) is almost certainly out. As is WR Dontayvion Wicks (32 catches, 331 yards), who has seen almost half of his production come in just the last three weeks alone (10 catches, 191 yards). RB Aaron Jones (19 catches, 169 yards) is also almost certainly out. Even Jayden Reed (32 catches, 463 yards) is dealing with an injury, although he is expected to play through it.

Player to watch: Reed. The second-round rookie out of Michigan State has been one of the few bright spots of the Packers’ 2023 season. He’s been a big-play machine for Green Bay, as you may remember from his 44-yard reception against Detroit that absolutely shouldn’t have counted. (Not that I’m still salty).

Advantage: Draw. My faith in the Lions pass defense is currently at an all-time low, but thankfully, the Packers passing attack has been equally inconsistent, and with all the injuries, this is Detroit’s best shot at stopping them. But I just don’t have much faith that they’ll be able to make Love as uncomfortable as last time, and if kept clean, the young quarterback can cause some trouble.

Packers run offense (25th) vs. Lions run defense (8th)

The Packers rushing attack has been pretty darn bad all year, although they’ve found some recent success. While AJ Dillon (3.5 YPC) and Aaron Jones (3.7) are (not) enjoying some of their worst career seasons, Green Bay has found some success incorporating Reed into the backfield (five rushes, 65 yards), and Love is always a threat to scramble (182 yards).

But, overall, it’s been mostly bad. The Packers rank 25th in run blocking, 20th in adjusted line yards, 19th in rush EPA, 16th in success rate, and 19th in yards per carry (4.1).

Slowly but surely, the Lions run defense is getting its mojo back. It may not seem like it with last week’s 183-yard performance from the Bears, but the majority of that was due to Justin Fields’ scramble. In terms of designed runs, the Lions were fantastic in that game, holding a talented Bears running back corps to just 79 yards rushing on 28 carries (2.8 YPC). In total, only three rushing attacks have averaged over 4.0 yards per carry against Detroit this year, and only one of those teams managed more than 100 yards on the day.

Overall, the Lions are second in run defense PFF grade, sixth in yards per carry (3.8), 12th in rush EPA allowed, 16th in success rate, and 11th in adjusted line yards.

The injury part: Aaron Jones is expected to be out. Third-string RB Emanuel Wilson is trending towards out. Even AJ Dillon is fighting off a groin injury, but will likely play. In response, the Packers have signed Patrick Taylor (151 career rushing yards) from the practice squad and added James Robinson to the practice squad. The Lions may see both players on Thursday.

Advantage: Lions +2. I’d give the Lions a bigger advantage here, but I suspect the Packers won’t run the ball a ton this week. They’ll certainly try, but given the way this preview is looking, they may have to abandon it early. I see no reason to believe the Packers will have much of any success running the ball other than on some trick plays or a Love scramble or two.

Last week’s prediction

Well, well, well. Look at who won the On Paper challenge with their 31-27 prediction. That’s right! MEEEEEE! On Paper continues to have a strong season. I’m currently 7-3 on the season and a whopping 8-1-1 against the spread.

Of course, things didn’t go exactly as I had predicted. The Lions struggled to pass the ball against a bad Bears defense (until the end of the game). But I’m not going to change too much of my opinion based on that game other than the fact that the Lions could use Jonah Jackson back this week. I have also gained more confidence in the Lions run game (and run defense) after taking it to a gritty Bears team.

Since I get to celebrate in this space for winning the contest, here are five correct opinions that you may not agree with, but you’re very wrong.

  1. The best comedy movie of the past 20 years is “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”
  2. Hot sauce should replace ketchup on everything other than potatoes
  3. “How To with John Wilson” is mandatory television viewing. If you want a jumping-in point, start with “How to Watch the Game” (season 3, episode 4)
  4. You are allowed to listen to Christmas music whenever you want. Don’t let people tell you otherwise. (Also: move over Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree” is the true modern-day Christmas banger).
  5. Stop hating on turkey on Thanksgiving. It’s literally the only time of year we eat it. Don’t ruin their day.

This week’s prediction

The Lions come out with a +7.5 advantage. Last week, I warned you that the Bears were better than their record. You will not get that kind of warning this week. The Packers, I would argue, are actually worse than their record. In fact, I think they’re both a worse team and a better matchup for the Lions than the Bears are. Even if they were fully healthy, this is a game the Lions should win by multiple scores.

As a young team, Green Bay is getting better as the season progresses, but they’re still bad. And this week should be a setback to that progress with all of the injuries. The only way this game stays close is if Jordan Love has the game of his lifetime. Lions 37, Packers 20.

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